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Importance Of Anna Hazare

Updated: September 10, 2011 4:00 pm

Mr Anna Hazare has caught the imagination of the nation. For the first time India’s educated English speaking middle class, a little less than one third of the population has taken to the streets. No doubt the unprecedented coverage and exhortation by TV channels played a crucial role in spreading the movement. While Mr Rashid Alvi’s allegation of American inspiration or allegations by others of a foreign hand may be discounted, no doubt there are powerful interests encouraging the movement. Corporate honchos are uncharacteristically jumping on the bandwagon. Why, even Mr SP Hinduja has made a stirring call against corruption through a newspaper article! Never mind how or why the nation has got galvanised in favour of Mr Hazare. The bottom line is that Mr Anna Hazare has become today the rallying cry for the people.

So where do we go from here? Mr Hazare is not the solution to the problems besetting the people. He is the symbol of national discontent. Corruption is not the only cause of popular discontent. Police atrocities, total lack of governance, terrorism, inefficiency, subservient foreign policy and a host of other grievances do not arise from only corruption. Nor is the Lokpal Bill, conceived either by the government or by Team Hazare, likely to end corruption.

Nevertheless, the present situation does offer a grand opportunity. There is prospect of a genuine cultural revolution that can reform the political system. Even more so than the Jayaprakash Narayan (JP) movement of 1977, there exists the potential for a paradigm change. I had some acquaintance with the origin and culmination of the JP endeavor. It ended in failure. If similar failure is to be avoided I offer a few suggestions to Mr Hazare and his supporters.

First of all, there is a need for a concrete, specific and concise agenda required to bring about political reforms. JP’s movement had a simple catchword, “Total revolution”. Team Hazare has a simple catchword, “Jan Lokpal”. That is not enough to achieve a second Independence.

The Lokpal Bill need not be dumped but integrated with the proposed agenda because it is already too deeply embedded in the national consciousness. As it is, the proposed Lokpal can be confined to only political corruption, leaving the rest to the Central Vigilance Commission. Along with the CBI it can be made into a constitutional body accountable to the President. It can be clearly specified that the appointment and functioning of the Lokpal as well as the CBI and indeed all other constitutional bodies would be under the direct purview of the President without reference to the Cabinet. There is nothing in the Constitution that would counter this provision. The President as the only official having the widest singular electoral mandate is the appropriate functionary to act as the final arbiter. There would be other items in the proposed agenda for reform that would address all other major grievances.

The time to formulate a consensus agenda for reform is now. Otherwise Mr Hazare and supporters could drift into chaos and confusion. With the wide popular support already achieved by Team Hazare it is a given that with requisite skill a national party can be created on the basis of an agenda for reform. Without a political instrument to implement the agenda the movement’s claims ring hollow. The new party should be formed on the basis of democratic principles with new membership drawn from the supporters who have taken to the streets. If any existing political party wants to join the new party it should be welcomed on the condition that it fully accepts the new party’s agenda and dissolves its own identity before a full merger. Only then would the movement successfully challenge the prevailing political culture and system in order to introduce genuine radical change.

The final step naturally would be to contest the general election and unseat the riff raff that governs India today.

People may think it too early to consider a concrete agenda and a new party. People would be mistaken. The sooner the public is educated about the endgame the less pitfalls would there be to achieve success. Perhaps Team Hazare has already factored all this in its calculations. If it hasn’t, it should. It requires a strong hand and a clear mind to hold the reins of a mass movement.

By Rajinder Puri

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